Women Under 35 May Have Higher Risk of Stroke Than Men

Brain illustration.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that young women were 44% more likely than young men to have a ischemic stroke.
  • The exact reason for the difference isn’t clear.
  • Experts recommend following a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk.

Strokes aren’t common in younger people. But new data has found that young women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to have a stroke.

The meta-analysis, which was published in the journal Stroke, analyzed data from 16 studies of stroke incidence in 69,793 young adults between January 2008 and July 2021. The researchers discovered that women aged 35 and younger were 44% more likely to have an ischemic stroke—which is caused by blocked blood vessels in the brain—than men in the same age group. There was no difference in stroke rates between the sexes in those aged 35 to 45.

The researchers also noted that young women who survive ischemic stroke “have worse outcomes, with two to three times higher risk of poorer functional outcomes compared with their male counterparts.”

What Is an Ischemic Stroke?

There are two main types of strokes: ischemic, which is the most common type, and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic stroke is usually caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain, preventing blood from flowing to the brain. Brain cells start to die within minutes of an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes can also be caused by stenosis, which is narrowing of the artery.

Another form of ischemic stroke is called a transient ischemic attack, which happens when the blood supply to the brain is briefly interrupted. This usually indicates that you’re at risk for a more serious stroke.

Each year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke—and about 610,000 are first-time strokes.

What This Means For You

While the risk of stroke in young people is low, doing your best to live a healthy lifestyle will help make your already low risk even lower. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your family history of stroke or blood clots.

Why Are Young Women at a Higher Risk?

This particular study didn’t examine the reasons why young women are more likely to have a stroke than young men—it simply found that they have a greater risk. However, experts have some theories.

Because ischemic strokes are often caused by a blood clot, certain blood clot risk factors can raise a woman’s risk of having a stroke, Amit Sachdev, MD, medical director in the department of neurology at Michigan State University, told Verywell.

“In younger females, two trends that could contribute to ischemic stroke are contraception use, which carries a known risk of blood clots, and smoking,” he said.

Among women 15–39 years old, 17% are using the pill and about 11% are using some form of long-acting reversible contraception, such as an IUD or implant.

Sachdev stressed that not all birth control methods raise the risk of birth control, but “those approaches that modify hormone levels are thought to carry clot risk.”

Women under 35 are also more likely to be pregnant, which can raise blood pressure and the risk of blood clots, ultimately increasing the risk of stroke, Jennifer Wong, MD, a cardiologist and medical director of non-invasive cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, told Verywell.

Women are also more likely than men to have systemic diseases with an increased risk of blood clots, like lupus, Wong added.

Overall, experts said more research needs to be done to investigate the link. “It’s intriguing and does raise some interesting questions,” Wong said.

Still, Sachdev pointed out, “stroke is rare in the young.”

To lower your risk of stroke at any age, Sachdev recommends trying to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking.

“If you have blood clots in the family, ask your doctor about your own risks,” Sachdev said. “Clotting risk can be genetic.”

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Leppert MH, Burke JF, Lisabeth LD, et al. Systematic review of sex differences in ischemic strokes among young adults: are young women disproportionately at risk?Stroke. 2022;53(2):319-327. doi:10.1161/strokeaha.121.037117

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Stroke facts.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current contraceptive status among women aged 15–49: United States, 2017–2019.